This week discourse in the college soccer world erupted regarding the 21st Century Model, a proposal to be voted on at the Division One college council that would extend the collegiate soccer season into the spring. This includes moving all postseason play, such as the ACC and NCAA Tournaments, into the spring. Among the potential problems are rosters changing from fall to spring, due to scholarship length and the MLS Draft. Concerns about the strain on students-athletes of a year-round competitive schedule have also been raised.
The proposal has been backed by a number of prominent programs. North Carolina and Clemson, for instance, announced their support. But one school has made clear its vocal stance against the proposal: Notre Dame.
Burns, Irish speak out against new modelSophomore fullback Paddy Burns announced the team’s unanimous decision to oppose the proposal Monday morning on Twitter and Instagram, posting an official statement detailing the reasons behind Notre Dame’s opposition.
In an interview with the Observer, Burns made clear that the team was both informed and united in their decision to stand against the 21st-century model.
“We watched the videos that the 21st-century model provided. We read through the PowerPoint slides that they gave us. And to be quite frank, it was a no-brainer on our end,” Burns said. “It was a very consistent thought process from all players. We all made our own individual decisions. Our coaches were great. They had no input. Our coach wouldn’t even tell us what he would prefer. It was solely up to the players and, individually, no one supported this model for several different reasons.”
Said reasons, Burns explained, are centered around both the players and the teams’ support staff. Regarding the players, he discussed the importance of the spring offseason to developing relationships off the field. Burns noted at Notre Dame, where the community of dorm culture is emphasized as a crucial component of the school life, the proposal would all but eliminate the possibility of enjoying said culture and building friendships away from the soccer team.
“I’m in St. Edwards Hall, and no other soccer players are in the dorm. I absolutely love it here,” said Burns. “It’s very healthy to have friends outside of soccer. This spring with no competitive fixtures, I’ve been able to immerse myself in dorm life a lot more, making new friends and developing new interests.”
MLS Draft, scholarship length provide concernsBurns also discussed the implications of the proposal for players currently on pace to graduate early due to either scholarship length or the presence of the MLS draft in January. The 21st Century Model provides no clear statement on the wrench the draft throws into their proposed plan. Major League Soccer is yet to provide any indication that they would move the draft. If it isn’t moved, teams that lost their top players to professional soccer would be unable to field said players in postseason games if they chose to play MLS.
“They’re essentially saying to me, and all the other players who are on track to graduate in three and a half years, ‘your senior year, Paddy, you will not be able to compete for a National Championship or an ACC championship’. Because I’ll be graduating in December of 2023,” Burns said. “That aspect is tough. To ask a team to compete in the fall, have four or five guys, then to lose them and compete again in the spring for championships. It’s hard. And the other aspect of that is that some players are on three and a half year scholarships. That's what they were given when they came in here. They’re definitely going to be gone in three and a half years because they're not going to pay for a full semester out of their own pocket if they can’t afford it. So all of those little elements with regards to the MLS draft are significant obstacles that, in my opinion, will not be overcome. I do not believe MLS will be pushed around by college soccer and be told what to do.”
The other core concern raised by Notre Dame and other opponents of the 21st-century model regards the extent it would affect and stretch schools’ background and support staff resources. Many college soccer teams’ support personnel such as trainers and sports information directors do not exclusively work within college soccer- and serve jobs with other teams at universities that would leave them overworked or unable to work with the soccer team at all if the season was extended.
“For the coaches that are desperately pushing for this 21st-century model, it’ll be interesting to see if they’re willing to tape the boys’ ankles in the training room and put stats on the scoreboard while the games are going on,” said Burns. “Because those are the jobs that need to be done for college soccer to work and for us to be able to play.”